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Heaven Knows What resets the genre of drug addiction drama by combining stylistic cinematography with an incredible autobiographical performance by first-time actor Arielle Holmes.
Set on the streets of post-financial crash New York, it depicts the real story of a drug-addicted lovers struggling from moment to moment, surrounded by a circle of deceptive and flaky individuals.
The story of how the film came to be made is as fascinating as the film itself. Co-directors and brothers Josh and Benny Safdie were filming test shots in the diamond district of New York when they discovered the 20-year old Holmes, whose charisma shone through her rough exterior. They convinced her to write a memoir about her life, Mad Love in New York City, which was turned into a script.
Holmes was the natural choice to play herself. No professional actor could portray the determination, anguish, cunning and hope as convincingly as Holmes, who had no prior acting experience. Her performance is what makes Heaven Knows What stand out from any previous drug-related drama, and gives the film something new to say about the topic.
The film is also a stylistic triumph, as the directors use long lenses to cast a distant haze over the city streets surrounding the characters. This juxtaposition of cinematic beauty with a confronting story is what gives Heaven Knows What its edge.The music is a fitting electronic soundtrack that adds to the story without swallowing it in melancholy.
Supporting Holmes is a cast of actors who deliver stand-out performances, including Caleb Landry Jones playing Holmes’ deadbeat boyfriend, the controversial rap musician Necro, and Buddy Duress, another addict-turned-actor.
Heaven Knows What premiered at the 71st Venice Film Festival, where it won the CICAE Art Cinema Award. It subsequently won both the Grand Prix and Best Director award at the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival, and has played to rave reviews at other film festivals around the world.
While the plot is challenging, the story of the film has a positive ending. Heaven Knows What was picked up for distribution in the U.S by Radius TWC, the Weinstein Company’s independent label. And Arielle Holmes signed a deal with talent agency ICM to continue her acting career.
Heaven Knows What is now being released in German and Austrian cinemas by Mobile Kino, a Berlin-based independent cinema and distribution company.
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